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Turia: Mana Wahine Launch

Mana Wahine Launch;

Mana Wahine in Politics

War Memorial Hall, Whakatane

Tariana Turia; Co-leader, Maori Party

Thursday 6 April 2006

I was told a story this week about a woman sitting with a group of Aboriginal men from the Ngarinyin people, around a table in Western Australia. A young boy of about seven climbed up to the table and took an orange. Immediately the men chastised the young boy, “we don’t do that. We don’t take food unless we are given it. You have to learn to respect mother. She gives us our food”.

At first the woman, a western woman, resisted the message in the story, challenging any suggestion that domesticity is linked to gender. Over time, she listened and learned more, about the stories that gave shape to this call to ‘respect mother’. When she spoke as a woman, her opinion was respected, because as the giver of life, women’s authority was integral to the process of thinking.

The giving of food was central to her responsibilities for nourishment, health and well-being. The pattern of life, the naming of the world is mostly Women’s Business because mothers and aunties are the primary caregivers of the young. Dreams and visions of the night may be shared with women who interpret the insight of the ancestors to make sense for the day.

This is Mana Wahine.

I was indeed honoured to receive an invitation to launch your Mana Wahine week back in October 2005. Inviting me to speak seven months ahead is pretty impressive planning!

You have asked me to speak to you about mana wahine. Like the woman at the table, I too have resisted the urge to define mana wahine.

I was reading a paper by Linda Tuhiwai Smith who discussed the way in which Maori women have been historically constructed as ‘other’ by white patriarchies and white feminisms. She suggested instead:

When Maori women control their own definitions, the fundamental unit of identity which can make sense of different realities lies in whakapapa. ….we are tuakana or teina to other women, with sets of responsibilities or obligations according to these culturally defined relationships.

It made a lot of sense to me.

So when I come to the topic of Mana Wahine in politics I must acknowledge Iriaka Ratana of Whanganui, Te Ati Haunui a Paparangi descent, with whom I share a common ancestry.

And I would also pay tribute to Tokouru and Matiu Ratana, both of Ngati Apa iwi.

I would also think of my grandfather, Hamiora Uru Te Angina, and my adopted father, Tariuha Manawaroa Te Awe Awe, my mother’s two sisters, Ripeka and Mihiterina, who travelled with Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana to England on two occasions to have the Treaty ratified. They were snubbed and ignored by the Crown, on the advice of the New Zealand Government of the day.

This is my whakapapa, this is where I derive my understanding of mana, mana tupuna. It encompasses mana wahine.

Every day when any of one of the Maori Party Members of Parliament rises to speak in the debating chamber, we mihi to the House. In te Ao Maori we acknowledge our meeting houses as imbued with the spirit of our tupuna. We think back to those who have been before us, sometimes the korero just naturally takes us where they left off, it is a dynamic, ever-living force.

So when we come to each day in the Beehive we carry that same concept with us. We have a powerful reminder of the mana of whakapapa right outside our Maori Party offices which are situated around Matangireia, the old Native Affairs meeting room.

A large panel reproducing Te Tiriti o Waitangi is mounted on a wall, and both in the room itself and alongside the walls of the corridor are portraits of all those who have spoken in the chamber before us. Outside my office, are portraits of Iriaka Ratana and Whetu Tirakatene-Sullivan, so I am always conscious of their legacy - and want to honour their contribution to the well-being of our people.

The importance of whanau is frequently over-looked in terms of its importance of what it means to be Maori and female. And yet when I look around this room I am sure that if I asked any one of you what is most precious to you the answer might be your babies, your mokopuna, your nanny, your Mum, your tane, your whanau.

For who is it that inspires us to be the best we can? For me, it is the ever eager, endlessly energetic little four year old wonder that puts a sparkle in my eye. My Pieta, known to some as Princess, gives me reason to defend Maori rights and advance Maori aspirations.

It is her future - along with the future of all my tamariki and mokopuna -and all our people throughout nga motu - that encourage me to strive for genuine progress in this nation. It is ensuring every opportunity for success is available to them that drives me.

Mana wahine is about listening and learning the stories and experiences of those around us. I am looking forward today, to understanding some more about mana wahine ki Mataatua - your stories - your world.

I would love to know the impact of Wairaka, daughter of Toroa, who uttered that well-known saying:

Kia whakatäne au i ahau! Töia te waka ki uta!

What are the tribal stories that tell us about ourselves?

It is up to all of us to recognise our indigeneity and the indigeneity of others as the strength of the many peoples who live in this land. Our mana tupuna, our mana atua, mana whenua is what gives this country its edge, and we must celebrate that.

This week, the nation has been reeling from the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people.

Professor Rodolfo Stavenhagen, word by word, has captured our issues, our priorities, our experiences.

Some of the key points that the Rapporteur recommends are that:

o The Foreshore and Seabed Act be repealed;

o Te Tiriti o Waitangi be entrenched in the constitution;

o The MMP electoral system should be constitutionally entrenched to guarantee adequate representation of Maori in the legislature and at the regional and local governance levels;

o the United Nations report also recommends that entrenching the Treaty constitutionally will create positive recognition and meaningful provision for Maori as a distinct people, possessing an alternative system of knowledge, philosophy and law.

It is a very significant report and I urge you all to read it and make sense of it for yourself.

As we embark on the Maori electoral option campaign - the campaign which provides Maori, every five years, with an opportunity to transfer to the Maori electoral roll - I think it is really important to understand the significance of being politically active, determining our future, at this point in the history of our nation.

As the Special Rapporteur has said - having political representation enables effective participation in the democratic process.

He has brought to the attention of the Government, the signficance of recognising “meaningful provision for Maori as a distinct people, possessing an alternative system of knowledge, philosophy and law”.

Over the last 48 hours we have heard all sorts of rebuttal coming out from Government offices - “the report is full of errors, it is disappointing, it is flawed because the Professor didn’t speak to this new breed of ‘urban Maori’”.

Just looking at this last point - I’d be interested to know if there is anyone here in Whakatane who meets this new iwi classification. According to the Oxford, ‘urban’ means to live in a town or city.

In the first five paragraphs of the report we are told the Rapporteur visited Auckland, Christchurch, Taupo, New Plymouth, Rotorua, Wellington, and talked with Maori in twelve government departments, the Waitangi Tribunal, Maori Land Court, Human Rights Commission, University of Auckland, with the Maori Women’s Development Corporation, with Waipareira Trust, with Manukau Urban Maori Authority and with Ngati Whatua. Now whether you take the Oxford definition or Dr Cullen’s - from anyone estimation I think there were plenty of Maori living in towns or cities in that lot!

We need to stay vigilant in challenging the Government on such issues. It is about maintaining our integrity, our indigeneity, our identity as mana whenua.

I want to return to the Ngarinyin worldview I started this speech with. Their system reflects the laws of nature. Their worldview is based on their belief that the primary unit of life and existence is relationship.

Relationship is the complementary and co-operative unit of two separate but harmonious parts. The relationship they refer to as Men’s Business, Women’s Business is a relationship of balance, of belonging in the world, a cycle of transformation and regeneration.

Mana wahine for me is not elevating the status of women above men. It is about that complementary, co-operative respectful relationship between all our peoples that honours them.

That to me is Mana Wahine. And it is something we must all cherish, celebrate and preserve for our survival of our people as tangata whenua.


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